Tareque Masud: face of Bangladesh’s alternate cinema (Obituary)

August 15th, 2011 - 4:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Michael Jackson Tareque Masud, Cannes award-winning independent filmmaker from Bangladesh, who inspired a whole generation of filmmakers in his country to dare to dream of making independent cinema, will not be there to complete his dream film “Kagozer Phool” (Paper Flower).

A road accident that silenced this passionate filmmaker this weekend happened when he, his wife and other members had gone to select a location for the film shooting in Manikganj.

Tareque’s untimely death has ended a celluloid dream for Bangladesh. The filmmaker was just 55.

He had emerged as the face of Bangladesh’s alternate independent filmmaking. A proud South Asian, he was among a few filmmakers to make a mark both in his own country and in international circuits, a dual achievement that evades many from this region.

“Tareque was a huge inspiration and role model to the younger generation of filmmakers in his country - he was a catalyst of sorts in the alternative filmmaking arena and his loss is very big,” says Mahadeb Shi, Indian filmmaker and editor, personal friend who worked closely with Tareque during “Muktir Gaan” in the mid 1990s.

Teaming up with his American wife Catherine from his very first project in 1989, a documentary “Adam Surat” (”Inner Strength”) on the Bangladeshi painter S.M. Sultan, Tareque became like a one-man industry in his country.

His inspirational documentary on the Liberation struggle “Muktir Gaan” (”Songs of Freedom”) in 1995 revealed that Tareque was no ordinary filmmaker. The documentary film which mopped up several awards, traced the journey of a music troupe that travels through the country during the Liberation War in 1971 singing inspirational songs to motivate the freedom fighters and ordinary citizens.

He and his wife rescued the 20-year old footage of these singing bards from the basement of American filmmaker Liar Levin’s New York apartment. Having convinced Levin to part with his 20-hour material, the couple then spent the next five years sourcing archival footage of the liberation struggle from different archives in the world. The very making of the film showed that Tareque and Catherine were no ordinary filmmakers. They were willing to think out of the box and follow their instincts against all odds.

Just 15 years old in 1971, “Muktir Gaan” was for Tareque, a way of understanding the struggle. But it went far beyond that.

“Muktir Gaan” ran to packed houses in theatres in Dhaka - never before had a documentary film received such an overwhelming response. It was this documentary that first brought me in contact with Tareque and Catherine in Mumbai and Kathmandu at the documentary festivals in the mid 1990s when they had come to show the film. I was moved by “Muktir Gaan” and considered them as friends since.

It was five years later that I met them again in Dhaka in 2000. I was filming a documentary in Bangladesh, “Michael Jackson Comes to Manikganj”, and at a lovely dinner at Tareque and Catherine’s house, I had a sneak preview into their next creative offering, a feature film. They were in the middle of filming “Matir Moina”, a semi autobiographical film for Tareque who had spent his childhood in a Madrasa.

Tareque and Catherine’s excitement knew no bounds. Their enthusiasm always affected me and I remember coming away from Dhaka knowing that their feature debut would be something to wait for. My instincts proved right. “Matir Moina” went onto win the International Critic’s Award at the Cannes film Festival in 2002.

The award citations read: “the film is an authentic, moving and delicate portrayal of a country struggling for its democratic rights.” It was also the first independent Bangaldeshi film to be shortlisted in the Foreign Language category for the Oscars.

With “Matir Moina”, Tareque had put Bangladesh film industry on the international film map. In an interview to a Bangladesh TV channel Tareque had said, “I have tried to hold up a mirror to Bangladesh society through my films and show my countrymen and the rest of the world a bird’s eye view of both historical and contemporary realities in my country - but in the end I have tried to always do this through a humane story.”

His sensitive story telling found new admirers and from this point there was no looking back. Tareque had shown that he was comfortable in both genres - documentaries and fiction films. He and his wife Catherine had became the face of independent cinema from Bangladesh.

More films followed - “Ontor Jatra” (2006) “Runway” (2010)…at their heart was the angst of a new nation but told through the lives of ordinary characters.

During a trip to Dhaka in 2009 I again sought out Tareque and Catherine. However busy they may have been with filmmaking, Tareque and Catherine always had time for friends, specially from India.

Tareque ushered me into his new studio which was abuzz with activity. Filmmaking was a passion for this couple and they infected everyone around them. They walked me through their entire studio introducing me to their colleagues and even took me to see a makeshift bedroom with a bed draped with a mosquito net for taking catnaps between bouts of editing.

I once again felt the energy of storytellers who were in a hurry to bring their story to the world. They talked animatedly about their pet film dream of the last 10 years - “Kagozer Phool” on which filming was to begin soon. The film was about the partition of undivided India and Tareque and Catherine saw it as a pre-sequel to “Matir Moina”.

In the middle of an hour long conversation that followed, they spoilt me with Dhaka’s mouth watering sweets, while discussing the challenges of filmmaking in Bangladesh. They pointed out the pitfalls before independent filmmakers in Bangladesh both at production and post production phase.

For many years filmmakers in Bangladesh were forced to shoot on 16mm and then travel to Mumbai or Chennai with the print and convert it to a 35 mm print. Raw stock for 33mm, including cameras or colour labs were not available.

“If only the Indian government would help us set up a proper film lab in Bangladesh and make film raw stock more easily available - many many more Bangladeshi filmmakers would be encouraged to make films,” Tareque had told me on that occasion.

I remember appealing to him to write an open letter to the film fraternity in India to help and he asked me in turn to write the piece. So, this one is for you, Tareque.

We said good bye with promises that next time I came I would travel with them to Faridpur, Tareque’s birthplace. “If you haven’t taken the launch ride to Faridpur, you haven’t seen anything,” Tareque would say. He wished me all luck with a journey I was making to Pabna to rediscover my father’s birthplace and his childhood friends, before partition. We were all on some kind of search of our roots…only Tareque’s search has been rudely aborted.

In a television interview to a channel in Bangladesh Tareque had uncannily said: “If we had another life, we would make all our dream films”.

It is now left to his grieving wife, injured and just out of hospital, to finish the unfinished dream project of theirs - “Kagozer Phool”.

(Nupur Basu can be contactded at nupbasu@gmail.com)

Related Stories

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Entertainment |

Subscribe